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BHA: Church of England Academy chains to take control of former Community schools

The Church of England is to gain the power to incorporate former Community schools with no religious character into its Diocesan Academy Chains, gaining the ability to appoint governors at those schools in the process, The Times has reported. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has reacted with concern to the news.

The news comes as Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove spoke at an event in Lambeth Palace, ‘Church of England: Education and our Future’, hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the event, Mr Gove commented, ‘I think there may have been a danger that the Church clung to the 1944 settlement [which established the modern “faith” school system] because they thought, essentially, “The sea of faith is withdrawing, but this is a firm boundary. We managed to strike a good deal with government and will protect what we have. Whatever else may happen, we’ve got control of our schools.” I would argue that that mentality is defensive and the Church should instead take forward a mentality which is optimistic, and think: “These are amazing opportunities here to extend and to build on our original mission to provide a high quality education to more children and to play a more energetic role.’

This is potentially at odds with Mr Gove’s previous statement that ‘I do not believe that the Government’s policy of promoting autonomy, encouraging schools to convert to Academy status and establishing new Free Schools and Academies will alter the balance between faith and non-faith schools in this country.’ However it fits in with the Church’s previously announced expansion plans, with the previous Archbishop of Canterbury having declared that because of the Academies programme, ‘We are looking at the middle-term future, where the Church of England will be quite conceivably the largest sponsor and provider of secondary education in this country, which is a rather startling and breathtaking proposal.’

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We are deeply concerned to hear it reported that the Church of England is to be able to take control of schools without a religious character, incorporate them into their Academy chains and appoint governors. While it is reported that there will be safeguards to stop religious discrimination in admissions, employment or teaching, it is hard to see how these safeguards would be great enough to offset the Church having control of a school’s governance.

‘Already the Academies programme is allowing the Church to extend its influence over other schools in ways never previously possible and it is vital to social cohesion that these new avenues are not extended even further.’

Notes
For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.
Read The Times report: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/education/article3807588.ece
Read the CofE’s press release: http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2013/07/secretary-of-state-for-education-calls-for-continuing-partnership-with-cofe.aspx
Listen to Michael Gove’s comments at the event: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/data/files/resources/5093/130703-Lambeth-Education-seminar.mp3
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character: http://www.humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/schools-with-a-religious-character.pdf
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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